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On the Idea of a Form of Life

  • Stewart R. Sutherland (a1)


Recent writing on the idea of a form of life has tended to be critical of the use made of this notion by writers such as Peter Winch, D. Z. Phillips and Norman Malcolm. Rightly or wrongly these writers have been regarded as meaning by ‘a form of life’, something like ‘a way or style of life’, and recent explicatory work on the notion has largely tended to discount this as a plausible interpretation of what Wittgenstein meant in his use of the expression. The intention of this paper is not that of direct intervention in this particular dispute, though the conclusions drawn, if correct, would have some bearing on it. The intention is rather to develop, in order to make use of it, the idea of a form of life within the context of a number of philosophical difficulties. I should certainly claim to be drawing upon the remarks made by Wittgenstein in his own use of the expression: but I should not claim to be expounding Wittgenstein. Hence I do not wish to enter into the disputes referred to above about what precisely Wittgenstein meant by the expression, though again, what I say, if not wholly misguided, should have some bearing on these disputes.



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page 293 note 1 Cf. Sherry, PatrickIs Religion a “Form of Life”?’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 1972, 9.2. pp. 158–67, and Nielsen, KaiGod and the Forms of LifeIndian Review of Philosophy I.1., 1972, pp. 4566, and ‘Wittgensteinian Fideism’, Philosophy Vol. XLII (07 1967).

page 293 note 2 Cf. Hunter, J. F. M. ‘“Forms of Life” in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations’, Hugh Petrie ‘Science and Metaphysics: A Wittgensteinian Interpretation’ and Farhang Zabeeh ‘On Language Games and Forms of Life’, all three reprinted in Essays on Wittgenstein ed. Klemke, E. D., University of Illinois Press, 1971. Also Patrick Sherry, op. cit. Of these four essays, Zabeeh seems to endorse a wider conception of a form of life than the others.

page 293 note 3 Hunter, , op. cit. The five occurrences of the expression in the Investigations are Sections 19, 23 and 241 of Part I, and pages 174 and 226 of Part II, Basil Blackwell, 1963.

page 294 note 1 Of course, children do also play ‘games’ which are much more open-ended, but this is a less central use of the term, and does not seem to be the sense of ‘game’ which most explicitly makes the analogical points about the nature of language which Wittgenstein drew from the comparison.

page 294 note 2 Cf. Anselm's Ontological Arguments’, Philosophical Review 1960, Vol. 69.

page 294 note 3 Cf. Phillips, D. Z. ‘Religious Belief and Language-games’ in Faith and Philosophical Enquiry (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971). See also Rhees, R. ‘Wittgenstein's Builders’ in Discussions of Wittgenstein, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970, to which Phillips acknowledges his indebtedness.

page 297 note 1 Wittgenstein, L.Zettel, Basil Blackwell, 1967.

page 298 note 1 Understanding a Primitive Society’, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. I, reprinted in P. Winch, Routledge 1973 Ethics and Action.

page 303 note 1 Nielsen, Kai, ‘God and The Forms of Life’, and P. Sherry, op. cit.

page 306 note 1 Cf. as a gloss on this point Peter Winch's Inaugural Lecture Moral Integrity, reprinted in Ethics and Action.


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